Brian Munoz | @BrianMMunoz
After 18 games of conference play through the Missouri Valley Conference, the field is set for what is sure to be an exciting Arch Madness Tournament March 7-10.
The first games at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis starts Thursday, with the first game being the eight versus nine seed.
Game 1: Indiana State (8) vs Valparaiso (9) at 6:05 p.m.
The Sycamores will kick off the tournament facing the Crusaders of Valparaiso. In the season series between the teams, the Sycamores claimed both wins – winning the first matchup by 17 and the second, in overtime, by 5.
Players to watch: Keep your eyes on Indiana State’s trio of guards: freshman Cooper Neese, sophomore Tyreke Key and junior Jordan Barnes. In their last game against Northern Iowa, the three combined for 44 of the Sycamores’ 71 points.
Make sure to watch Valparaiso freshman guard Javon Freeman – the newcomer is averaging 10.1 points per game. Also watch for junior center Derek Smitts; he is averaging 12.5 points per game to go along with 5.7 rebounds per game.
Game 2: Illinois State (7) vs Evansville (10) at 8:35 p.m.
While Evansville finished their conference schedule with five wins, I would not count them out against Illinois State. The Redbirds swept the season series against the Purple Aces, but Evansville has played well as of late. The Aces won their final game over Valparaiso and lost to Bradley by two and Southern by eight. I believe they have the potential to upset the Redbirds.
Players to watch: Keep an eye out for Illinois State senior forward Phil Fayne, who averages 6.2 rebounds per game as well as 15.8 points per game. Senior guard Milik Yarbrough is a key to this team as well averaging 16.8 points per game to go along with seven rebounds per game.
Don’t sleep on Evansville junior guard KJ Riley who is averaging 13.5 points per game and keep an eye out for senior guard Marty Hill; having shot 57 percent behind the three-point line in Evansville’s final game against Valparaiso.
Game 3: Loyola (1) vs Game 8/9 winner on Friday March 8th 12:05 p.m.
I would expect Indiana State to beat Valparaiso, so I expect this game to be Loyola vs Indiana State. If the Ramblers end up playing the Sycamores, the Rambler’s shouldn’t worry having swept the season series against Indiana State.
Prior to winning their last two games of their season, Loyola lost three out of four – while having the number one seed in the tournament, the Rambler’s are beatable.
Players to watch: Loyola relies on three players to do a lot of the heavy lifting – senior guard Marques Townes, sophomore center Cameron Krutwig and senior guard Clayton Custer. The three combined for 57 of Loyola’s 81 points in their win over Bradley on Saturday.
Game 4: Missouri State (4) vs Bradley (5) 2:35 p.m.
This game is bound to be a thriller with both teams playing their best basketball in the second half of the Valley season. The Bears won six out of seven to climb the way towards the top of the standings, while faltering and losing three out of their last four. Bradley started the Valley at 0-5 but won ten out of their next 12 games.
Players to watch: Missouri State junior forward Tulio Da Silva is the best player statistically, averaging 14.7 points per game to go along with 7.6 rebounds per game.
The Bears offense runs through senior guard Josh Webster who leads the conference in assists per game at 5.2 – his assist to turnover ratio is leading the Missouri Valley at 3.1. Bradley junior guard Darrel Brown leads the Bears’ charge, averaging 15 points per game and 3.1 assists per game.
Game 5: Drake vs 7/10 winner 6:05 p.m
While I expect Evansville to give Illinois State a run for their money, I think the Redbirds will come out on top and end up playing the hottest team in the conference – Drake. Illinois State is the only team to have beaten the Bulldogs in their last seven games.
The Redbirds are also the only team to have beaten Drake twice in conference play aside from Loyola, so a Drake v Illinois State matchup would be exciting.
Players to watch: Drake’s best player is senior forward Nick McGlynn, averaging 15.6 points per game and leading the conference in rebounding with 8.5 rebounds per game.
Senior guard Brady Ellingson is also someone to keep in mind when watching the Bulldogs squad as he leads the Valley in three-point field goal percentage at 48 percent and three point field goals per game averaging 2.6.
Game 6 Southern Illinois (3) vs UNI (6) 8:35pm
This game will be a fun nightcap to finish off day two of Arch Madness. Southern rolls into the contest winners of three straight and having won four out of their last five.
The University of Northern Iowa comes into the contest having lost two straight against Loyola and Indiana State. SIU claimed the season series having won both games against the Panthers, but as anyone who watches college basketball knows, it is hard to beat a team three times.
Players to watch: Keep an eye out on Southern Illinois senior guard Armon Fletcher who has played his best basketball down the stretch, averaging 22.8 points per game on 53 percent shooting as well as 8.2 rebounds over the last six games.
For the Panthers, watch for freshman guard AJ Green who is averaging 15.6 points per game with 41 percent shooting.
The rest of the schedule is as follows: March 9th will be the winner of game three against the winner of game four at 2:35 p.m. The winner of game five will play the winner of game six set for 5:05 p.m. The championship game is set for March 10th with tip off set for 1:05 p.m. at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Missouri.
Saluki fans if you thought the season was crazy, keep your eyes on this tournament and hope SIU can walk away winners of the Valley for the first time since 2006.
Sports editor Adam Warfel can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @warfel_adam.
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